2021 hindsight: Inside the Trevor Bauer disaster and how the Dodgers got here

Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer
Trevor Bauer was solid on the mound for the Dodgers but his baseball future is uncertain because of sexual-assault allegations.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)
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What could be Trevor Bauer’s last public comment in a Dodgers uniform was uttered in frustration as the pitcher stood up to leave a videoconference following a 3-2 victory over the San Francisco Giants on June 28.

“I can’t believe they didn’t ask me about f — ing Angel Hernandez,” Bauer said, making no attempt to hide his disdain for the much-maligned umpire.

Bauer had pitched well that Monday night, limiting the National League West-leading Giants to two runs in six innings and striking out eight. Nearly halfway through the season, Bauer was 8-5 with a 2.59 ERA and a then NL-best 137 strikeouts in 107 2/3 innings .

He received a rousing ovation from a Dodger Stadium crowd of 47,835 after escaping a sixth-inning jam, pounding his chest three times and pointing both arms toward fans above the third-base dugout as he walked off the mound.

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The Dodgers need pitching help, and Andrew Friedman, their president of baseball operations, says adding a starter is ‘the most front-of-mind thing.’

But Bauer seemed irritated, a bit distracted, during a brief postgame video call in which several of his answers were clipped and his walk-off quote was tinged with scorn.

A day later, the scattershot strike zone of a notoriously erratic umpire and the inadequate inquiries of a few sportswriters would be the least of Bauer’s concerns. That morning a San Diego woman obtained an ex parte temporary restraining order against Bauer in Los Angeles County Superior Court. In the 85-page document, the woman alleged that the pitcher had choked her to the point of losing consciousness during two sexual encounters in the spring and injured her during the second. Bauer, through his representatives, said the encounters were “wholly consensual.”

Three days would pass before Bauer was placed on paid administrative leave — a non-disciplinary action — by Major League Baseball and he has remained there while MLB investigates the right-hander for a possible violation of its joint domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy. Separately, the Pasadena Police Department has continued its investigation of Bauer, launched in May, for possible felony assault.

Already one of the game’s most polarizing players before these allegations, Bauer, 30, has sparked an outcry among fans, some who want the Dodgers to immediately sever ties with the 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner and question why a defending World Series champion signed him in the first place, and some who are concerned about a rush to judgment before Bauer has had a chance to defend himself in court.

Bauer’s career is in jeopardy, and his stay with the Dodgers could be over, the sexual-assault allegations having turned a pitcher in his prime into a pariah in his own clubhouse, where no teammate has spoken publicly about him or come to his defense. Two people with knowledge of Dodgers clubhouse dynamics, who are unauthorized to speak publicly about the situation, said that a majority of players do not want Bauer back under any circumstances.

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Even if he is not charged with a crime, Bauer could be facing a lengthy MLB suspension without pay. Since MLB implemented its domestic violence policy in the summer of 2015, 14 players — five of whom were placed on paid administrative leave — have been suspended for violating it, with suspensions ranging from 15 to 162 games.

MLB doesn’t need to wait for criminal investigation to end before deciding whether sexual assault allegations warrant suspending Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer

All of which raises the question: Will Trevor Bauer throw another pitch for the Dodgers or any other major league team? And, more consequentially, why was he here in the first place?

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The first indication that the Dodgers were interested in Bauer came in a Dec. 16 story by The Los Angeles Times’ Jorge Castillo, who wrote that the team “would likely entertain adding Bauer only if he is open to a short-term deal.”

That possibility gained steam on Jan. 20, when ESPN’s Jeff Passan tweeted that the Dodgers were “monitoring the market” for Bauer and “could be a player depending on the price.”

Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer sits with manager Dave Roberts during a game in Washington on July 1.
Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer sits with manager Dave Roberts in Washington on July 1. Bauer was placed on administrative leave the next day.
(Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

Starting pitching didn’t appear to be a need last winter. The rotation looked stacked with Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urías, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin. Veteran left-hander David Price was returning after opting out of the 2020 season because of coronavirus concerns.

But the Dodgers’ hand was being forced by the upstart San Diego Padres, who had gone on an offseason binge, signing their electric shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. to a 14-year, $340 million contract. They bolstered their rotation by acquiring Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove; the Dodgers, winners of eight straight NL West titles, did not want to lose an arms race to their division rivals.

Bauer would come with a cost beyond his salary. He had a history of harassing and bullying women online, mocking transgender people and spreading conspiracy theories. Still, the Dodgers, enamored with Bauer’s durability and dependability on the mound, continued their pursuit.

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Then came a Feb. 4 USA Today report that Bauer had agreed to a deal with the Mets.

“I went to bed [that] night really bummed and thinking it wasn’t going to work out,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said.

Two people with knowledge of Dodgers clubhouse dynamics said that a majority of Dodgers players do not want Bauer back.

By the next morning, however , the Dodgers had hammered out the final details of a three-year, $102-million contract that would pay Bauer $38 million this season and included $32-million player options for 2022 and 2023.

Friedman touted the team’s vetting process, saying background checks of Bauer included conversations with former teammates, coaches, clubhouse personnel and athletic trainers from Arizona, Cleveland and Cincinnati, where Bauer previously played. He added that he and team president Stan Kasten had multiple conversations with Bauer about his use of social media.

Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer is on paid administrative leave after being accused by a woman of sexual assault. Here’s our coverage.

“The most important thing,” Friedman said at a Feb. 11 news conference at Dodger Stadium introducing Bauer, “is every teammate we talked to, all the feedback we got from every organization he was with, was not only incredibly positive in terms of the type of teammate he is but also in terms of the impact that he makes on each organization.”

Bauer focused on local ties. The Santa Clarita Hart High graduate and former UCLA star chose the Dodgers over the Mets, he said, because he wanted to help his hometown team win a second consecutive World Series.

Trevor Bauer, pitching for UCLA in the College World Series in 2010, grew up as a Dodgers fan.
Trevor Bauer, pitching for UCLA in the College World Series in 2010, attended Hart High in Santa Clarita and grew up as a Dodgers fan.
(Nati Harnik / Associated Press)

“I used to sit in the bleachers right over there as a kid, watching [batting practice] with my dad and listening to Vin Scully on the radio,” Bauer said during his introductory news conference. “I’ve been a longtime Dodger fan and couldn’t be more excited to be here with the group we have.”

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He steered clear of more difficult subjects that day, notably his online behavior, vowing only to be better.

“Everyone makes mistakes in the past — I try to learn from them as quickly as I possibly can,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people to try to understand other peoples’ perspectives, and I’m doing my best to be better in all walks of life. I am committed to being better on social media, to being better on the field, in the clubhouse, and in life in general.”

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The Dodgers were confident that Bauer would conform to a team-first culture cultivated by such veterans as Kershaw, third baseman Justin Turner and outfielder Mookie Betts. And the initial signs suggested clubhouse acceptance and buy-in.

“I think our clubhouse does a really good job of taking in all types of personalities, different people, and getting the best out of them,” Kershaw, a 14-year veteran and three-time NL Cy Young Award winner, said early in spring training. “And we expect that with Trevor. We’re going to let Trevor be himself and do what he’s continued to do over the course of his career.”

Kershaw and Buehler said their conversations with Bauer focused primarily on pitching — how to process and utilize advanced statistics, how to attack certain hitters and different grips with which they might experiment.

“I’m excited to talk to him about … different ways to get the most out of what you’re doing,” Kershaw said in spring training. “I think he’s going to make us all better.”

Betts, too, was more excited about Bauer’s credentials than he was concerned about his accompanying baggage.

“I mean, obviously, you get a Cy Young winner and you’re going to be excited,” Betts said in late February. “But all those things are ... he is who he is. You know what you’re getting, so I don’t really worry about it. It doesn’t bother me.

“He goes out there and competes, he gets wins … I don’t know what more you can ask for. He’s got to be Trevor Bauer. You can’t try to turn him into someone else.”

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Bauer went through spring training and the first three months of the regular season relatively incident-free. He gave the Dodgers All-Star results — quality starts in 14 of 17 games, 11.5 K/9 and a 1.003 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched).

“He has conversations with one guy, with four guys,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said as recently as May 31. “He’s different, but he likes to talk baseball, and I love it, because typically, as you guys have seen, our guys don’t sit around and talk.”

It was a social-media exchange that triggered the series of events that led to Bauer’s sexual-assault allegations.

After giving up one run and three hits in six innings of a 5-2 loss at San Diego on April 18, Bauer, according to the court filing, exchanged private messages with a woman who had tagged him in an Instagram post. Three days later, on April 21, the two met at Bauer’s Pasadena home.

In the restraining order request, the woman wrote that a sexual encounter that night was “consensual and non-threatening” until Bauer “began putting his fingers down my throat in an aggressive manner,” and soon thereafter “wrapped my hair around my neck and choked me.”

The two continued to communicate over the next three weeks. In a May 9 text-message exchange that Bauer’s representatives provided to The Times, the woman told Bauer that she had “never been more turned on in my life” by him choking her. “Gimme all the pain. Rawr.”

The Times has not been able to authenticate messages cited by the woman in the restraining order request or by Bauer’s attorney.

The Dodgers unnecessarily signed a pitcher with a history of making troublesome decisions when they already had the best team in baseball.

The woman met Bauer at his home again on the night of May 15, after Bauer had thrown seven scoreless, two-hit innings, struck out 10 and walked none in a 7-0 win over the Miami Marlins.

Bauer, the woman wrote, again wrapped her hair around her neck, choked her and caused her to lose consciousness. This time, she wrote, Bauer “began punching my face,” and then “punched me hard with a closed fist to the left side of my jaw, the left side of my head, and both cheekbones.”

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She wrote that she drove back to her San Diego home and awoke the next day with a split lip, a swollen jaw and cheekbones, two black eyes, “over 10” scratches on her face, and bruises on her gums, buttocks and vagina.

In the next 18 hours, she underwent two medical examinations, one that diagnosed her with “an acute head injury and assault by manual strangulation,” and sat for interviews with detectives from police departments in San Diego and Pasadena.

On Friday, May 21, the woman wrote that she drove to the Pasadena Police Department to record a “cold call” with Bauer in which she asked Bauer what he did when she was unconscious. The transcript of the phone call has not been publicly released.

That night, Bauer threw one of his best games of the season, giving up one unearned run and two hits and striking out 11 in 6 1/3 innings of a 2-1 win at San Francisco.

Trevor Bauer gestures to the crowd after being removed from a game against the Giants in San Francisco on May 21.
(D. Ross Cameron / Associated Press)

“The more you see him,” Roberts said of Bauer after the game, “you just love the compete, the execution, the ability to make pitches when he needs to.”

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Five weeks later, the temporary restraining order was obtained, throwing Bauer’s career into limbo. MLB has twice extended the pitcher’s paid administrative leave, which now runs through Tuesday . The Dodgers removed a Trevor Bauer bobblehead night, which was set for Aug. 19, from their promotional schedule and pulled Bauer merchandise from their online and stadium team stores.

A prolific Twitter, Instagram and YouTube user, Bauer hasn’t posted on social media since the sexual-assault allegations surfaced. He has been seen on social media only once, when a Twitter user posted a picture of Bauer and his agent, Rachel Luba, at Utah’s Zion National Park on July 12.

On Friday Bauer made his first public appearance since being placed on leave, attending a hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court to determine whether the restraining order will remain in effect. His accuser was also in attendance. After the two sides argued they needed more time to review recently-disclosed evidence, the judge granted a continuance until early August.

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Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer is contesting a restraining order request filed against him by a woman accusing him of sexual assault.

A lengthy MLB suspension of Bauer without pay would provide some salary relief for the Dodgers, who still owe Bauer about $75 million.

Bauer’s contract is not publicly available, so whatever grounds the Dodgers might have to void it are unknown. However, the standard player contract allows a team to terminate a deal should the player “fail, refuse or neglect to conform his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship and good sportsmanship.”

Questions remain about the Dodgers’ vetting process, and why an organization that President Biden described as “a pillar of American culture and American progress” in a White House ceremony on July 2 — the same day Bauer was placed on his first paid administrative leave — would sign Bauer in the first place.

“You can talk to Andrew [Friedman] more about that,” Kasten said of the vetting process that afternoon, before a game at Nationals Park . “I think this would not be a good time for him to address that. But we did a fair amount, like we always do. And that’s really all I’m comfortable saying right now.”

And, of course, the biggest question of all: Will Bauer play again for the Dodgers?

“I don’t have any way of answering that because, right now, this is in the hands of the commissioner’s office,” Kasten said. “Let’s get through that [process] and then we’ll be able to discuss that more in-depth.”

The National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached 24 hours a day at 1-800-656-4673.

Times staff writer Jorge Castillo and assistant sports editor Steve Henson contributed to this report.